Nearly 99% of southern Sudanese voters chose secession in this month's independence referendum, clearing the way for Sudan to split in two.
The official preliminary results were announced at a ceremony attended by a crowd of several thousand people in the southern capital Juba today. The figures showed that voter turnout was 98% - far above the 60% threshold required for the result to be valid. Subject to confirmation of the final result next month, and pending legal challenges, southern Sudan will be free to declare independence on 9 July. "This is what we voted for, so that people can be free in their own country ...
I say congratulations a million times," southern Sudan's president Salva Kiir told the crowd, who had assembled at the grave of the liberation leader John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash in 2005. The ceremony ended with the people singing of "the promised land", something southerners have dreamed of since colonial rule ended in the 1950s and the Arab-led government in Khartoum took power. Decades of marginalisation and conflict followed, with the most recent north-south war from 1983 to 2005
causing about 2 million deaths.The peace agreement that ended the war gave southerners the option to secede through a referendum after a six-year interim period.
Such was the anticipation before the vote that hundreds of thousands of people queued before dawn across the vast, undeveloped south to cast their ballots on 9 January even though the voting booths were open for a week.
The ballot has been commended by observer groups, though some problems with tallying have been reported. Many feared President Omar al-Bashir's regime in the north - which opposes secession - would use violence or other means to disrupt the vote, but it did not happen.
This, added to Bashir's comments that he wanted to enjoy "brotherly" relations with the south should it secede, led to rare praise for the often-maligned leader, both internationally, and in southern Sudan.